Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I grew up in a family in the American Midwest. What that meant was that I was encouraged to get along, conform to convention, and trust in authority. That might mean the same thing elsewhere but in Minnesota there is a prevailing spirit of “nice”. No that is not meant to suggest something is wrong with being nice, nor is it meant that people are not actually nice. It is also not to suggest that I was ever told to like something I didn’t. In fact, people are encouraged to vote or act upon their conscience but, not to publicly at least rock the boat. So Minnesota Nice, as it were was the cultural language I grew up with. People said Hi How are you but really meant I acknowledge your existence and am now concluding the discussion. People weren’t mean, just ultimately spoke differently than they were communicating the meaning. For example, I’d broken my leg in an accident, it hurt, my body was unused to lugging about a giant cast, while I hopped around using crutches. A person said to me, wow that looks painful, and it was, so I said so. They looked disappointed and my parents reprimanded me later. They said, nobody really wants to know if it is painful. I was thereby causing them discomfort by being honest. I love my parents, this is not directed at them or rather not intending it to be so. But there was in there a spirit of this area that meant that the popular culture spread more via conformity to popularity than by quality. You heard something was good, so it must have been, but there was no guarantee of such a thing.

But rather than adjust my taste to this mass conformity, I simply saw it as the way they were, and not myself. People thought I was weird? Yes. But not weird in an axe wielding homicidal maniac fashion. More, someone who obviously doesn’t fit in the puzzle of mass culture. I had to get used to being an outsider. And being an outsider of popular culture was no easy thing. And some might suggest that when a person is forced to follow a different path they encounter new things that the general society does not. But more than just new or different, being constantly told what you like, whether in terms of medium, or genre, or style or format, you learn quickly what you like, and become aware of why you like it. Popularity might argue that people need never have to defend their taste, but quality might argue that regardless of what you like you experience it more deeply due to a higher level of appreciation.

But being different does not, however much you might be told it does, mean that quantity of success or popularity equals quality. Many people enjoy porn, it makes a lot of people money, a lot of money. No one I know argues that even within the genre itself that there is much difference between the best and the worst of pornography. Erotic literature and nude photography are obviously not included even though either might drift into the waters of pornea.

With all that said, I like many different things, appreciate why I like it, and am happy to discuss it. What I am not willing to do is go into detail about why I dislike various products of popular culture mediums or why I should like or not like the same. However different a person’s taste is, I suggest that we all have a right to our individual taste. Someone I know argued that ABBA was the greatest popular recording music group ever. I would not debate greatest because it is a nebulous concept. Do you refer to sales? Or musicianship? How knowledgeable do I need to be to make that assessment? I am perfectly content that people like their music. Do I? Well I find their music to be rather boring, and in the genre they play not particularly spectacular. But beyond my taste not being excited by ABBA I am wholly of the mind that there is nothing wrong with enjoying their music. But that is not enough. People WANT their taste to be THE taste. And that just isn’t so.

Am I saying everything is equal in quality? No way. I am saying that the vast majority of people enjoying something are not qualified to dissect the quality of one band to another, beyond simple questions of taste. And where taste is involved, people tend to think that their taste is best.

And so that brings me to my real point. Just because you like the taste of something does not mean it is the best there is. All it means, is that you like it. And it doesn’t matter a damn bit if others like it. All it means is that if popular enough you shouldn’t have a problem finding more. Enjoy what you enjoy, do that which pleases your taste, and leave it at that. Otherwise you will confuse mass culture for high culture.

Here is where you may find more of me:

My Poetry Blog
My Comics Blog
God Blog
My Space


giadrosich said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you saying that, by definition, if something is readily available it is mass culture, and if something is not readily available, it is "high" culture?

One could, of course, substitute "elite" for "high," being how the perception is that only elitists enjoy those pastimes and products that are above the ability of the "great unwashed" to understand.

Could Goth culture be considered elite? How about raising Llamas? If you were a Gothic Llama farmer in lower Alabama who like to surf, would that make you elite (by definition), or simply strange?

When does elitism (or high culture) pass into being eccentric? And if you were an eclectic eccentric, would you enjoy listening to classical music while eating steak tartar in an Alice-in-Wonderland themed restaurant?

alex-ness said...

I'd define mass culture as something that is widely available and accepted as reasonably normal.

Low culture would be porn, cheap beer and professional wrestling.

High culture would be something that causes the participant to become more as a result of their being a reader or viewer or participant.

Which leaves us popular culture as being both parts of mass culture and middle culture, which is something that is enjoyable on different levels, at the lowest is nothing more than pablum, at the highest approaches high culture.